The sun shone brightly on a smattering of young Ulster stars as they held a full-strength Leicester Tigers side in a pre-season slog at Ravenhill on Saturday.
Following a useful 20-15 win last week away to Bayonne, new Ulster coach Mark Anscombe watched a fairly raw squad come back to level the game at the death.
Scrum-half Michael Heaney, Ireland underage stars Peter Nelson, Chris Farrell and the try-scoring Chris Cochrane all made superb contributions, as did the now Irish qualified Robbie Diack at the back of the scrum.
“It’s certainly something we have to build on,” he said. “We had a lot of young ones out there and I was proud the way they hung in to the end.
“It was a pretty strong Leicester team and quite a few internationals and our guys acquitted themselves very well. The heart and commitment of individuals was superb.
“Take the last 15 minutes with that backline we had, most just out of school two years ago, they handled things well and nearly got a winning score at the end.”
It was hot and heavy at Ravenhill, and even more so up front, where Ulster gained more than parity with the Tigers, particularly in the set pieces. It was from one big shunt in a scrum five metres out that, after All Black John Afoa replaced Declan Fitzpatrick at tight-head in the 25th minute, the Tigers tight five crumbled and referee George Clancy immediately awarded a penalty which Niall O’Connor converted.
With 12 minutes remaining, the defence was cracked by elusive Fijian winger Vereniki Goneva following a neat pass by replacement fly-half George Ford who converted to level the scores.
It looked as though Leicester had more tiger in their tank when their bullish England number 8 Thomas Waldrom crashed over in the 76th minute from a lineout drive.
But all credit to Ulster, who managed not only to level in injury-time but nearly stole the game at the death. First Cochrane beautifully side-stepped in under the posts for Paddy Jackson to convert and then the excellent Nelson took off on a piercing run down the right wing only to be halted just short of the line.
ULSTER: J Payne; C Gilroy, C Farrell, L Marshall; M Allen; N O’Connor, M Heaney; C Black, N Brady, D Fitzpatrick, J Muller, capt, L Stevenson, R Diack, A Birch, N Williams.
Replacements: J Afoa for Fitzpatrick (24), P Jackson for O’Connor (40), R Herring for Brady (40), S Doyle for Birch (40), N McComb for Stevenson (40), M McComish for Williams (40), R Andrews for Cochrane (40).
LEICESTER TIGERS: G Murphy, capt; S Hamilton; M Tuilagi, A Allen; V Goneva; T Flood, B Young; M Castrogiovanni, T Youngs, D Cole, S Mafi, G Parling, B Deacon, J Salvi, T Waldron.
Replacements: J Crane for B Deacon (35), R Hawkins for Castrogiovanni (51), G Chuter for Youngs (51), F Balmain for Cole (60), G Ford for Flood (63).
Referee: George Clancy (IRFU).
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved